It was hard to believe I was sitting at the base of the last mountain, with only 5 miles left on this incredible journey.
As expected, I slept about an hour that last night, and was excited to finally see 4am on my watch and eagerly started packing up. It was a cool crisp morning and good weather (the only good day in about a week) was promised.
Packed up very quickly and made my way down the day use parking lot and the start of the last section of the AT. Met my parents and Deanna there around 6:30 and by 6:45 we were on the trail!
The first mile or so is a nice gentle hiking trail with only a little elevation gain. It is perhaps the greatest false sense of security on the trail. It gives absolutely no hint to the 4 remaining miles.
The second mile definitely starts to give you more warning. You do some decent, though stepped climbing for a while, and then the rocks start. Normally I would call them boulders, but then I wouldn't have a descriptive word left for what miles 3 and 4 bring. You immediately start using your hands at every part and quickly abandon any need or use for trekking poles. Knee pads and gloves would be more useful to you. You continue like this for the better part of an hour...and only then do you even get above the tree line. Then the real fun (your definition dependent) starts.
Miles 3 and 4 are pure rock climbing. The term "hiker" has long been abandoned. You quickly find yourself staring at boulders as big as cars in front of you, with nothing but more boulders, just as big, rising as far as you can see straight up in front of you. The only reason you can't see the end of them is because they are literally in the clouds. Some places have handrails and iron ladders built into the rock to help...others don't.
After a solid hour and 1/2 - 2 hours of this, depending on your speed, you reach "the table" and you're greeted with an absolutely ridiculous above-the-clouds view that let's you know you've done the bulk of the work. After that its a flat-ish mile rolling up to the grand summit.
As we got closer, the clouds cleared a little and I got my first glimpse of the sign. Very very surreal feeling. Every northbound hiker ever, myself no exception, has thought long and hard about that sign and the moment of finishing...and here I was experiencing it first hand! The summit was far more crowded that I had imagined. It was the only nice day in a string of 6 or so, and a lot of people had taken advantage of it. Walking around people to reach the sign wasn't quite the finishing picture I had in my mind for so long, but at that moment, I didn't care at all. I just wanted the sign. I wanted the finish line. I wanted to conquer this thing!
I let Deanna go ahead while I took a minute to take in the full gravity of the moment. I looked around, took a big breath, and knocked down the last 50 yards of the AT!!
Reached the sign just before noon on July 25th, marking 4 months and 14 days and the end to an absolute epic journey!! I enjoyed a celebratory beer with my buddy Hurricane at the top. Even though he already climbed it himself 3 days earlier, came to join me for a victory lap up the last mountain. It feels incredible, and at the same time bewildering and incomprehensible that a person could literally walk all that way.
I can remember spending hours and hours thinking and planning this trip, and it's unbelievable to have my dream realized.
Thank you thank you again to all who helped make this possible!
Also, working on an afterword to come....